India Banned Movie Which Plays In Los AngelesTop Stories

April 04, 2017 11:50
India Banned Movie Which Plays In Los Angeles

When director Alankrita Shrivastava set out to make the second feature film, she had no idea that a modest story about the four small-town Indian women would create such a furor. “Lipstick Under My Burkha,” which follows the two Hindus and two Muslims searching for personal and sexual freedom, was blocked from the Indian theaters this year by the national censor board even as it collected awards at the international film festivals. The censor board cited the film as “lady-oriented content,” “sexual scenes” and “audio pornography”, the reasons which might have confused fans of India’s mainstream Bollywood cinema, in which the writhing dance moves, blatant double entendres and also near-naked bodies are practically requirements for a studio release.

The decision has made Shrivastava’s film, that opens the 15th Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles on Wednesday, the latest flashpoint in an escalating culture war in the India, where powerful conservative forces are exerting increasing control over the art and expression.

The Central Board of Film Certification, whose chairman Pahlaj Nihalani was appointed after a Hindu nationalist party rose to power in the year 2014, stoked controversy in the last year for demanding the cuts to a movie about the drug menace in the northern state of Punjab. Many independent artists also objected when the government installed loyalists to lead the India’s most prestigious film school, and after that the country’s Supreme Court made standing for the national anthem mandatory at the movie theaters. Shrivastava said that the censor board has hardly objected to films which objectify women or insert them into stock. It is part of challenge of the independent cinema in India, that struggles to find an audience in a Bollywood-obsessed country.

Those stories are what Shrivastava sought to explore with the “Lipstick,” whose intertwined stories involve a Muslim college student who wears a full-body burkha at the home but rebels by shoplifting lipstick and clothes; a Hindu beautician with a robust sex life who is being forced into the arranged marriage; a Muslim mother of the three with a repressive husband; and also a 55-year-old Hindu widow trying to restart her life.

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Set in the central city of the Bhopal, which is like all the Indian urban centers is experiencing a dramatic transformation, the film also grapples with the tension between the tradition and change. The widow, who in an orthodox Hindu culture would be expected to mourn for the rest of her life, secretly devours steamy pulp fiction, dreaming of a sexual reawakening which she is not supposed to have.

It is not clear that what the Indian censors objected to. The letter they sent to the producer Prakash Jha is oddly worded and also riddled with misspellings, at one point referring to a bit sensitive touch about one particular section of the society.

If the censor board meant for Muslims, who make up 14% of the India’s 1.25 billion people, Shrivastava said that she set her story in Bhopal because Muslims and majority Hindus live alongside each other in the older neighborhoods there, unlike the other Indian cities where the communities are more segregated. The film has achieved a notoriety which surprised Shrivastava, who only wanted to tell a story from the female perspective.

In the last week, before leaving for the Los Angeles, Shrivastava screened “Lipstick” to an appellate body which will decide whether to overturn the censors and allow it to be released in India.

“Lipstick Under My Burkha” opens the Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles on April 5th at at 7:30 p.m. at the Regal Cinemas L.A. Live, 1000 W. Olympic Blvd.

Mrudula Duddempudi.

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